Five councils have a fortnight to explain Publicity Code breaches before the Secretary of State issues legal directions.
Five councils have been given a fortnight to explain why steps should not be taken to stop their “propaganda on the rates”, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced today (17 April 2014).
Formal letters have been sent to 5 London boroughs triggering the first legal steps the Secretary of State can now take to require compliance with the Publicity Code for local authorities, under the new Local Audit and Accountability Act.
Looking at the Publicity Code, a number of clauses leap out...
15. Local authorities should ensure that publicity relating to policies and proposals from central government is balanced and factually accurate. Such publicity may set out the local authority’s views and reasons for holding those views, but should avoid anything likely to be perceived by readers as constituting a political statement, or being a commentary on contentious areas of public policy.16. Any publicity describing the council’s policies and aims should be as objective as possible, concentrating on the facts or explanation or both. Local authorities should not use public funds to mount publicity campaigns whose primary purpose is to persuade the public to hold a particular view on a question of policy. It is acceptable for local authority publicity to correct erroneous material which has been published by other parties, despite the fact that the material being corrected may have been published with the intention of influencing the public’s opinions about the policies of the authority. Such publicity should seek to explain the facts in an objective manner.26. Local authorities should not incur any expenditure in retaining the services of lobbyists for the purpose of the publication of any material designed to influence public officials, Members of Parliament, political parties or the Government to take a particular view on any issue.
All of this is highly germane to the 'sock puppets' issue that I have written about, particularly since 'public health' responsibilities have been devolved to local authorities.
Take an old favourite, Balance North East, for example. According to its website "Balance is funded by the North East’s 12 local authorities" and so it is. Elsewhere on its website, you will find countless "political statements", "commentaries on contentious areas of public policy", "publicity campaigns", "lobbying" and attempts to "persuade the public to hold a particular view on a question of policy".
Take its campaign for further restrictions on alcohol advertising, for example...
Alcohol marketing is recruiting our kids as the next generation of problem drinkers. We don’t think this is right and we need your help to do something about it. We’ve started a petition calling on Government to restrict alcohol marketing and protect children and young people.
Please sign it now and protect them before it’s too late.
Or it's campaign for minimum pricing...
Show your support for MUP
MUP is a targeted measure which will increase the price of products such as white cider and very cheap vodka which are traditionally drunk by the young and people drinking at very harmful levels.
It wouldn’t affect the price of a pint or a glass of wine in a pub and, if you drink within the Government’s recommended limits, is estimated to cost you an average of 28p on your weekly alcohol bill. Isn’t that a price worth paying to save 3,000 lives a year and reduce alcohol related crimes by 46,000?
That’s why this policy is supported by our GPs, our police force and even our publicans. It is also supported by the majority of the people in the North East.
Professionals and politicians from across the North East are telling the Government to ignore the vested interests of the global alcohol industry and introduce minimum unit price. You can add your voice to theirs by writing to the Prime Minister directly or calling on your MP to do so on your behalf.
To email the PM use the following address https://email.number10.gov.uk/
To contact your MP go to www.theyworkforyou.com
A question of trust
Some global alcohol companies oppose minimum unit price. You may hear their arguments, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to trust. A minimum unit price is supported by people who put your health and wellbeing first, such as the British Medical Association. It is opposed by some who have a legal obligation to put the profits of their shareholders first.
You have the power to bring change...
But it won’t happen overnight. An important first step in getting Government to listen is contacting your MP. Let them know you are concerned about the impact of alcohol marketing on children. Your MP will raise the issue on your behalf. Why not send them a quick e-mail right now?
100 per cent taxpayer-funded, all of it. Not only is it entirely biased towards one point of view, but it actively invites the public to lobby politicians on contentious matters of public policy. Could there be a more brazen breach of the Publicity Code? And there are plenty of other examples of overt political campaigning by similar groups - see here, here and here for examples.
If you have other examples of local authorities breaching the rules - whether under the aegis of 'public health' or not - please leave them in the comments. It's time that something was done about this outrageous use of public money.